NEIL CHANNING is a highly respected figure on the British gambling scene. A successful professional poker player, he’s an ambassador for Sky Poker, having previously worked for City Index and as a racecourse bookmaker. He’s a regular guest on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday and is co-founder of Betting Emporium, an affiliate partner of BetConnect. In the first of a two-part Q&A, he underlines the unique appeal of BetConnect and discusses the wider issues of trying to be a successful racing punter in 2019.
QUESTION: Can you summarise what advantages BetConnect offers for a Pro horse racing punter such as yourself?
Neil Channing: Well I was trying to explain BetConnect to someone recently and I’d say it’s a cross between having an account with every firm in one place and an old-fashioned commission agent. You also have some of the benefits of a traditional online exchange but without the negatives.
BetConnect and the exchanges both have their merits but the reason I like BetConnect is you can just go on and get your bet on. With an exchange you can take what price there is straightaway but there might not be a lot available and sometimes you have to leave up an offer and wait for it to be matched.
With BetConnect you generally know there is a firm behind the price – a bookmaker offering it – so you pretty much always get your bet matched unless you are trying to have hundreds of thousands on. It’s a sort of instant liquidity which you don’t have on the exchange.
“It’s like having an account with all the firms you probably can’t have an account with and having all your money in one place” – Neil Channing
The other thing is you can win on BetConnect without getting premium charges, as you do on Betfair. if you’re a long-term winning punter, Betfair slap a premium charge on you because they want to control the ratio between winners and losers on their exchange. If you don’t have enough recreationals the exchange doesn’t really work.
With BetConnect you don’t really have that problem. Someone is getting your bet matched for you so that isn’t an issue: some of the money is going back to the bookies and BetConnect shouldn’t really mind if people are winning a lot of money on there.
The main thing is it’s like having an account with all the firms you probably can’t have an account with and having all your money in one place. If I open an account with Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Betfred or whatever I’ve got to put a little money into each of them. There’s money coming back and forth. I end up making a lot of transactions between my bank and these various online accounts; sometimes I end up leaving money in an account that I’m not using for four or five days and it’s inconvenient.
Q: At BetConnect we find that often the races that we as racing fans might get excited about aren’t the ones the Pros are most likely to have a bet on. They tend to go for the Class 6 handicaps on the all-weather and so on. What’s the reason for that?
Neil Channing: It feels like there’s an obvious answer to this. If I wake up on day one of the Cheltenham Festival and I think to myself it’s 9.30am, I want to get some bets on, well I don’t really have to go to Betconnect to get a bet on the Arkle Chase. There’s a very strong market on the exchanges, and the market is very liquid.
If I have one lined up for novice hurdle at Hexham the liquidity on the exchanges is tiny and if I go and use my betting account it’s liable to get restricted or closed so I’m going to go to BetConnect for those kind of things. Then I can get my bet on in one go and pick up all the other advantages of BetConnect and while I’m there I might have a bet on a few other races. BetConnect is competing with exchanges more than it’s competing with bookmakers so you tend to make a decision: is it a bet for an exchange or is it a bet for BetConnect? I don’t think there will ever be a case for most people to decide whether they use Betfair or BetConnect. I think they are complementary products.
Q: What sort of frustrations are successful racing punters encountering and how bad has the problem become?
Neil Channing: People do whine about not getting on and we’re at a place now where racing markets are going up at 4pm or 5pm the day before and the Betfair exchange market isn’t really establishing itself until a bit later. So those bookmakers who go up first of all are quite rightly very nervous about the prices and don’t really want to lay bets and they cut prices quickly.
Now I don’t really blame bookmakers for doing that that and I think punters whining about that just need to grow up a bit really. But I do feel punters – whether pros or amateurs – are entitled to be upset when they go to a firm and ask for £10 each-way on something and are told you can only have £6.83. You tend to think there has to be a level at which common sense prevails and someone says ‘it’s not going to kill anyone to lay that.’
From the bookmakers’ point of view they are naturally wary of people who might be following matched betting sites and bonus abusers. All these people tend to get lumped under the name “arbers” but most of it isn’t arbitrage, it’s a kind of advantage playing.
Then you have people waiting to see what horse Hugh Taylor tips on At The Races and a lot of recreational punters will try to have £50 on the horse. There’s a piece of old-fashioned advice which is that bookies should keep these accounts open as a “mark” so they get information for later. But the truth is they don’t need to lay everyone £50 at 10-1 on a Hugh Taylor tip that’s about to go 6-1, they just have to log into At The Races.
No point wasting energy
From my point of view I decided a few years ago I didn’t want to waste energy pulling my hair out and I don’t try to bet at 8am on the maiden race at Wolverhampton. I focus most of my attention on the classier races and like to bet mid-morning to late morning. I tend to bet on the bigger events and then you have a chance of getting on. I’d like to think that’s the world we’re in but even if you do that you can find yourself backing the winner of The Open Golf Championship at 50-1 and get yourself restricted.
It has swung a bit too far. Bookmakers are limited companies on the stock market and CEOs are legally obliged to make the maximum profit for their shareholders. If they didn’t do that they’d be breaking the law. So I see why they think they should be imposing restrictions and I also get why they decided to sack their odds compilers and build software that copies the exchanges but it means they are making bad decisions in middle management and I actually think it’s costing them money. They think they’re doing very well with their clever algorithms and so on but I think the industry needs to let people know it’s possible to win at the game because it’s an aspirational thing. If people are left with the feeling there’s no chance of winning that’s no good to anyone.